Controversial tower to get second look in Victoria

Victoria city council first rejects, now reconsiders merits of 105 affordable housing units

After sober second thought, a height-weary Victoria city council reversed its decision to reject a mixed-use development promising 105 units of affordable housing.

Mark Johnston of Oakwood Park Estates showed up at Thursday’s meeting to plead his case, but learned there was no need: council will reconsider his proposal.

“We’re not sure we can go back and redesign the proposal successfully in any reasonable timeframe,” said Johnston. “As council knows in dealing with their Blue Bridge, timing and opportunity have a great deal of impact on affordability.”

On April 7, council rejected the 14- and eight- storey mixed-use development proposed on Speed Avenue in a contentious split vote.

At first blush, the proposal by Oakwood Park Estates seems the type of development called for in the city’s recently unveiled draft Official Community Plan.

The visionary document plans for high-density housing near commercial hubs, and along major transportation corridor. The proposal falls within a block of Mayfair Mall and the future rapid transit line.

But it’s just too soon, argued Deb Day, director of planning.

The OCP is still just a draft requiring public feedback.

Needed first, is “much more considered local area plans,” Day said.

Mayor Dean Fortin considered the impact of tall buildings on the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood.

“I can’t think of any other neighbourhood in our city that we would say a 14- and eight-storey building would be OK,” he said. “Imagine this in Fairfield.”

Staff presented other concerns: the need for traffic management study, independent analysis on the value of amenities versus rezoning, and assurances of the feasibility of the affordable housing promised.

Under the proposed terms, M’Akola Group would purchase 75 residential units at a 25 per cent discount. The society would then rent them to families at 10 per cent below market for 35 years.

Add to the amenity list a space for a 20-child daycare, 30 affordable rental units available for five years, and 64 market rental units.

“There’s much to be commended here,” said Coun. Chris Coleman. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said.

But Coun. Lynn Hunter wasn’t persuaded by the lure of these much-needed amenities.

“Our hunger for affordable housing is really clouding our judgement,” she said. “Where would these kids play?” she asked. “Would they become mall rats?”

The arguments left Johnston, a former city manager, feeling frustrated.

The city can look at this as an opportunity or a problem, he said. “If you’re open to do business, you have to stop sticking fingers in people’s eyes … There’s 105 affordable housing units here. There are no projects before council that come close to anything like this.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

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